The Marquis of Granby
The 21st (Granby's)
The Seven Years War against France began in 1756, and the Marquis
of Granby, commanding the cavalry fighting the French in Germany,
soon realised the need for light cavalry. In 1760, seven new
regiments of cavalry were formed, designated as Light Dragoons.
The Marquis of Granby raised one of these regiments, the 21st
Light Dragoons. Recruits were required to be 'light and straight
and by no means gummy', and their horses were chosen from among
'the finest hunters in the Kingdom'. The new regiment was retained
in England in preparation for a possible French invasion and
was chiefly employed in escorting French prisoners of war from
Scarborough to prison barges at Hull. In 1763, when the Seven
Years War ended, extra regiments were no longer required and
the 21st Light Dragoons was disbanded.
21st Light Dragoon 1760
The 21st (Douglas's) Light Dragoons
With French support for the American colonists in 1778, the
threat of a French invasion of England returned. As a large
proportion of the army was deployed in the colonies, it was
again necessary to raise additional cavalry regiments, and the
reformed 21st Light Dragoons was raised by Colonel John Douglas.
This time the regiment was posted to Whitby to patrol the Yorkshire
coast. Import taxes kept the price of rum, tea and sugar high,
and smugglers made huge profits by bringing these in from Holland.
There were few roads along the coasts of England, and only Light
Dragoons could move quickly from cove to cove. In 1783, with
the end of the war in America and peace with France, the regiments
raised for the emergency were no longer required and the 21st
was again disbanded.
The 21st (Beaumont's) Light Dragoons
After the French revolution of 1789, Britain, Holland and Spain
sought to undermine the Republic, because they saw republicanism
as a threat to their own monarchies. The French declared war
on all three countries in February 1793. In response, Britain
again increased the size of the standing army and in February
1794 the 21st Light Dragoons was raised for a third time.
Initially the regiment was employed in Manchester, providing
aid to the civil powers, but eventually received its first overseas
posting. In 1795 the French troops garrisoning the West Indies
Island of San Domingo joined forces with the plantation slaves
and declared the island a Republic. As a result the plantation
owners requested British aid in quelling the uprising. Because
the West Indies was crucial for British commerce, troops were
dispatched to San Domingo. The 21st Light Dragoons was part
of this force, though once there, the regiment suffered more
from yellow fever than from enemy action. The British evacuated
the island in April 1798.
In 1806 the 21st was deployed to Cape Town, to protect the Indian
trade route. In fact the closest the regiment came to Napoleon
and his armies was after the war ended in 1815, when the 21st
furnished a troop to guard and escort the Emperor on the remote
Atlantic island of St Helena.
Peace again saw a reduction of the army and, as one of the new
regiments, the 21st Light Dragoons was selected for disbandment
in 1820. The troop guarding Napoleon was allowed to continue
until the Emperor's death.
The 21st Light Dragoons
The final reincarnation of the 21st followed the Indian Mutiny
of 1857. Although the mutiny was contained, it was clear that
the native troops of the East India Company could not be trusted.
Therefore the Company raised regiments consisting solely of
Europeans, among them the 3rd Bengal European Light Cavalry.
Due to the unpopularity of service in India, the height requirements
for Crown cavalry recruits were not enforced on the Company
recruits drafted from England, and they became known by the
unpopular nickname 'Dumpies'.
The government was not convinced that the Company's efforts
were enough to guarantee there would not be a recurrence of
the mutiny, and an Act of Parliament in 1858 removed the administration
of the territories from the Company and handed this to the Crown.
All Company regiments were redesignated as Crown regiments.
The 3rd Bengal European Light Cavalry became the 21st Light
Dragoons in May 1861, and was redesignated as Hussars two months
later. The regiment was allowed to retain the distinctive french-grey
uniform facings on its uniform, as a mark of its Indian origin.
21st Hussars 1876
The 21st Hussars spent the next twelve years in Bengal before
returning to England and Ireland. In 1887 the regiment was again
posted to India, where it remained until moving to Egypt in
1896. It was while in Cairo that the 21st was informed, in April
1897, that it was to be redesignated and equipped as a Lancer
Sudan: The Charge at Omdurman
An Anglo-Egyptian force was sent to reconquer the Sudan in order
to end Dervish rule, which threatened British interests in Egypt.
The 21st Lancers was the only regular cavalry to serve with
this army. On 2nd September, 1898, the army reached Omdurman,
the Mahdi's capital, where the infantry formed defensive squares
on the banks of the Nile. The Dervishes made several mass attacks,
which were beaten back by a continuous and accurate fire from
the British infantry. After two hours fighting, the ferocity
of the Dervish attack slackened and they appeared to be retreating
back towards Omdurman.
The 21st Lancers was then ordered to cut the Dervish line of
retreat into the city. As the regiment advanced, it came under
rifle fire from what appeared to be a few hundred skirmishers,
and the order was given to charge. Too late, it was discovered
that this frail line of Dervishes stood in front of a dry riverbed
packed with several thousand of the enemy. Private Wade Rix
'As my horse leapt in among them, my lance entered the left
eye of a white-robed figure who had raised his sword to strike.
The impact shattered the lance and I quickly drew my sword as
another man pointed his flintlock. I struck him down and blood
splattered his robe.'
Charge of the 21st Lancers, 1898
The regiment fought its way through the packed enemy and moved
away, dismounted and opened a withering fire using carbines,
forcing the Dervishes to withdraw. During this action the 21st
Lancers lost twenty-one men killed and fifty wounded. Three
Victoria Crosses were awarded, each of them for rescuing a wounded
comrade from the midst of the enemy. Lieutenant Winston Churchill,
attached to the regiment from the 4th Hussars, commanded a troop
in the charge.
Charge of the 21st Lancers, 1898
As a result of the charge at Omdurman, the 21st Lancers was
awarded the title 'Empress of India's' by Queen Victoria, became
the only regiment entitled to wear her Royal Cypher, and was
allowed to return its french-grey facings, which had previously
been replaced by scarlet. To this day men of The Queen's Royal
Lancers still wear a form of Queen Victoria's Royal Cypher on
their uniform. C Squadron maintains french-grey as its squadron
colour and celebrates 2nd September each year, the anniversary
of the charge at Omdurman, as its squadron battle honour.
In 1899 the 21st Lancers returned to England where it remained
until 1912, when it again deployed to India. On the outbreak
of the Great War, the regiment saw action against Afghan tribesmen
armed by Germany, who threatened the security of the Punjab
throughout this period. Private Hull was awarded the Victoria
Cross for his action at Shabkadar on 5th September, 1915, and
the regiment gained a second battle honour, 'North West Frontier'.
In the tradition of Omdurman, Hull returned to the battlefield
to rescue a wounded officer. His VC citation reads: When
under close fire of the enemy, who were within a few yards,
he rescued Captain Learoyd, whose horse had been shot, by taking
him up behind him and galloping to safety.
21st Lancer, Great War
Although the 21st did not serve in France as a regiment during
the First World War, in 1916 it did provide drafts of men to
form a Service Squadron for action on the Western Front.
21st Lancers, India, 1918
With peace in 1918 came a reduction in the size of the army.
Consequently the 21st Lancers found itself shipped back to England
in preparation for disbandment. However in 1922 a change in
Government policy led to the regiment being amalgamated with
the 17th Lancers to form the 17th/21st Lancers.